Are ‘Daddy Issues’ a Real Thing or Just a Myth? We Looked Into It
You don’t have to be an avid porn-watcher to realize that the word “daddy” has gained a new and interesting place in mainstream culture.
While it was previously just a way for small children to refer to their fathers, it’s now taken on sexual overtones in the form wildly popular step-incest-themed pornography that dominates many Pornhub-style tube sites, and thirst tweets that get levelled at celebrities from Oscar Isaac to the Pope.
But what is the deal with all this daddy discourse? Have we as a culture developed a serious case of daddy issues? Have daddy issues proliferated? Or is it just that pretending to have them has become funny enough that people have started taking part ironically?
To get a better understanding of what “having daddy issues” actually means, a handful of therapists chimed in to help determine where these issues sprang from.
1. What Are Daddy Issues?
To many, daddy issues “usually means that a woman has confused feelings about men, stemming from unresolved dysfunction with her father,” says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., psychotherapist and author of “Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today.” “This can happen if her father was absent, if there were abuse or incest problems between father and daughter, if her father had addiction or alcoholism problems, or if her mother blamed her father for the mother’s unhappiness.”
However, the term doesn’t really exist in a vacuum as it’s often tossed around as part of an implicitly or explicitly judgmental phrase.
“The stereotype exists to (typically) describe heterosexual women who had emotionally or physically distant fathers, creating insecure attachment in women making them difficult in relationships later in life,” says Jor-El Caraballo, a relationship therapist and co-creator of Viva Wellness. “It’s usually used as a pejorative term when women don’t act in a way that their male partners find desirable.”
One outcome of this can be, in particular, an attraction to older, “daddy-like” men.
“It is a colloquial term that is used to describe someone who finds older men’s qualities attractive or sexually appealing in part because the older man reminds them of their own father,” adds Dr. Janet Brito, a sex therapist based in Hawaii.
On the other hand, a difficult relationship with one’s father can push someone in several different directions. Basically, it’s not as easy as labeling a woman who seeks out older male partners as someone who had an absent father.
“Women with daddy issues can be sexually shut off, too” notes Tessina. “They can have trouble with commitment, or be too clingy. [They might] have trouble knowing what they want. Even with success in other aspects of their lives, they may struggle to find a happy, healthy and fulfilling relationship, romantically.
2. Are There Different Types of Daddy Issues?
Not all daddy issues are created equal.
“The term ‘daddy issues’ is not science-based,” says Tessina, “and can [refer to] a lot of different behaviors and traumatic stress.”
That’s in part because everyone’s relationship with their father is unique. Even if two people both have difficult relationships with their fathers — or none at all — how they process the emotions stemming from that might manifest in vastly different ways.
There’s also the fact that daddy issues, counter to stereotype, don’t just affect straight women.
“Daddy issues can impact anyone, regardless of sex or gender,” says Brito. For some, daddy issues might manifest primarily as an attraction to older men, while for others, “daddy issues might be non-sexual, and instead of yearning for and pursuing intimate relationships with men, these individuals tend to stay away from forming relationships with men due to having unresolved conflicts with their fathers, and feeling afraid that they won’t be loved.”
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On top of that, male daddy issues can hold straight guys back in a relationship context, too.
“Not having a healthy and full relationship with one’s father can manifest for men in difficulty forging deep male relationships (platonic or sexual) and being disconnected from one’s own emotions,” notes Caraballo. “Men should know that no one is immune from so-called daddy issues. It may be less evident in men who don’t seek out men for sexual relationships, as they have less tendency to project those issues onto their female partners. But these intimacy issues can be present for anyone, creating barriers to intimacy, which can complicate a relationship.”
3. The Correlation Between Daddy Issues and Relationships
For many people, complicated relationships is one of the main impacts of so-called daddy issues.
They’re often seen as something that prevents women from developing healthy relationships with men. But instead, maybe they should be recognized for what they are: as a sign that a fraught relationship with one of your parents can undermine your emotional well-being in myriad different ways.
If you find yourself dating someone who confesses to having a father complex, or you simply suspect that’s the case based on their actions, it’s important to approach the situation with kindness rather than judgment.
“If you have a basically good relationship with a woman, but she displays some confusion or conflict about you that doesn’t really relate to what’s going on between you, you can resist fighting with her and ask her to talk about what she’s feeling,” says Tessina. “Give her plenty of opportunity to talk about it. If she doesn’t talk about her dad, ask about him. Ask about her mom’s relationships with men.”
“If the problems are serious,” however, you might want to “suggest you both go to counseling to get some help with what’s not working. Try to remember it’s not about you,” she adds.
Another suggestion? Try not to replicate the bad experience your partner may have had with their father by modeling a positive male presence while around them.
“If you know your date has daddy issues (i.e. mistrust), make sure that your words match your behavior,” says Brito. “Do not promise one thing, and then do another. Be consistent all around.” As well, approaching their relationship with their father from a place of non-judgment is extremely important.
“Do not jump to conclusions right away, and spend time getting to know your date,” she adds. “Be curious to explore what the label ‘daddy issues’ means to them and how it manifests in their life. Do your best to work on yourself, to reduce any unconscious negative reactions. Most of all, avoid being an emotional manager or rescuer. Instead, focus on being present and non-judgmental.”
4. The Correlation Between Daddy Issues and Sex
In addition to partner choice and relationship behavior, sex itself gets a fair amount of scrutiny when it comes to people discussing the concept of daddy issues. In particular, lots of people seem to associate the word “daddy” being used in a sexual way with a father complex — though the connection might not be as simple as that.
“One can engage in daddy role plays for erotic pleasure and be turned on by the interplay of power and control, and have had a positive experience with their father,” notes Brito. “I think that daddy issues are a psychological phenomena, and using ‘daddy’ in a sexual way does not mean one has daddy issues in their day-to-day life.”
Caraballo agrees, noting that by tossing around “daddy” or “zaddy,” that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re someone with daddy issues.
“These terms are often meant to convey someone who is mature in some way, provides care or takes the lead in a romantic or sexual situation,” he says. “It can be a fun, and enjoyable term for many people to use for what it symbolizes, not because someone is thinking of their actual father when being with their partner.”
Just as much, it’s also possible to have a difficult relationship with your father — one that informs many different aspects of your life in ways that may or may not be evident — without it ever entering the sexual arena.
At the end of the day, each person’s relationship with their father is different. Frankly, the fact that “daddy issues” is still used a pejorative term for women in our culture instead of finding out whether there’s a crisis of fatherhood afoot is just a sign that we all still have some work to do.
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